Thursday, December 13, 2018

Persistent Love

Psalm 46:6-7  6 Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when He lifts His voice. 7 The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah

An unusual survey was done a few years ago, Participants in the survey were asked this question.......what 3-word sentence would you most like to hear or have said to you? The top three answers were 1. I love you.....2. I forgive you.......3. Supper is ready. (1)

We live in an ever changing world and we should not be surprised by that. God created a universe that is always in motion. We live on a planet that is spinning around its axis while flying around a sun that is itself soaring through a galaxy that is rapidly streaming through the expanse of the universe. Nothing stays the same for any length of time. Nothing, that is, except God.

Look at how the world is described in verse 6 - nations rage and kingdoms topple. Just when we think we are adjusted to what is going on this crazy world up and changes on us. We look at life on a global scale and we see how it is utter chaos and therefore we begin to doubt that God is still paying attention or that He even cares anymore.

But the Psalmist reminds us that even when it feels like the world is in chaos, God is with us and is our refuge. While the world and even all of creation may be in constant change, God is not a part of creation - He is the creator. God’s plan is the same today as it was before He made the first atom. Nothing has derailed it or thwarted it and nothing ever will. God’s character is the same today as it was when He came to Bethlehem, and His love is the same as it was when He went to the cross for you. God’s love is unchanging.

If you look up unchanging you will find many definitions, including eternal and permanent, but my favorite definition is persistent. God's love for us is persistent. It does not let us go. In the three word survey I mentioned everyone wanted to hear I love you, love is something we desire, and everyone needed to hear I forgive you, forgiveness is not something we desire unless we have done something that needs forgiving.

Here’s the kicker, we often fear that our need to hear I forgive you means we will never again hear I love you. The things I have done that require me to need forgiveness must cancel out the love you were willing to show me. But it doesn’t. You see God’s love is persistent even through our failings. Why is it important that His love is unchanging and persistent?

Because it is by His love that we live, it is by His love that we survive, it by His love that we have hope, peace and joy. We vastly underestimate the power of God’s love.

His love can transform your life. His love can open the doors for you to make it through trials. His love can save you and show you what this life is all about. His love is not a Christmas present you will ever outgrow or get bored of. It is not something you can get your fill of or run out of.

This Christmas realize that God’s love is more than seasonal. It is active, unchanging and it is eternal.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

(1)Illustration given in a sermon by Matt Parker

Monday, December 3, 2018

Great Expectations

Psalm 5:3 At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.

There are many things to look at around Christmas time.  The lights, the trees, the plethora of movies and the over abundance of decorated cookies.  Of course, as Christians we want to focus on the nativity, on the very true story of the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary so many years ago.  However, when we are looking at Christmas it is a good idea to look at more than just the manger scene, more than just the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes but to try to see the whole picture from every angle.

We have a tradition in the Christian faith that for centuries has sought to focus our eyes not just on Christmas but on the whole meaning behind it. It is called advent and it is a way at looking at Christmas with a sense of great expectation.

The verse above is from Psalm five.  In this psalm, David talks about how the unrighteous can not even enter into God’s presence yet by God’s faithful love David can cry out to Him and eagerly await God’s appearing. He knows there is no hope, no love, no joy, and no peace apart from God. He knows God is going to work great and mighty things and he watches for Him expectantly.

That is advent. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas where we stop and refocus on more than the trappings of Christmas but on the larger story that it is a part of. The story of our awesome God, His amazing grace, and His redeeming love. This isn't a program or a structured bible study. It isn’t a devotional or a to-do list. It is simply a chance to encourage within each of us a frame of mind that allows the Holy Spirit to refresh us. An opportunity to realize that we can lay aside our business and our stress and let Jesus Christ revive us this season.

If you go back and read the Old Testament you see time and time again examples of individuals crying out to God or watching expectantly, like David, for what God is going to do. They may not have known the specifics or the details but they believed firmly that God was going to make things right. They had faith that God was going to come and fix what we had broken.

The Old Testament Saints were saved by grace through the faith that they had in God’s future act of mercy. As we approach this advent season, remember that they had faith in someone who was coming, we have faith in that same someone who has already come and will come again.

God the Father, through Jesus His Son, gives us grace that goes beyond your current circumstance or this world’s current crazy situation but instead carries us into eternity. You see the miracle of Christmas is not just hope for now, it is hope forever more. It is a hope not just in our future but in His future.

In Advent, we put ourselves in the shoes of those people awaiting the coming of Christ so many years ago. But truthfully we should always be doing the same thing today. Whereas the people long ago were awaiting their Messiah to come and walk among them, we are awaiting our King to come and take us home.  We celebrate the hope that this Christmas brings, hope that we can experience today, and every day, but let us also keep our eyes forward to the hope that is to come when He returns for us.

Like a child waiting for his gift on Christmas day, let us wait for our coming King with great expectation.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Distraction Of The Season

Luke 10:41-42 41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

In this well known encounter told in Luke, chapter ten, Jesus and His disciples have dropped in on Mary and Martha, two sisters who were friends and followers of Jesus. Martha is busying herself being the perfect hostess. In her day the women were expected to wait on the guests and they were judged by how well they did so. For a respected, important guest they were not not only expected to wait on them but to wow them with hospitality. Meanwhile, her sister Mary was sitting along with the disciples, at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to what He had to say. Because of this Martha is frustrated. Why should she be doing all the work! She asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and give her a hand!

The response of Jesus went past the superficial and the cultural expectations of the day, past that present situation and straight to the heart of Martha. In verse 41, He says: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things ...” We know that in this passage Martha is aggravated by what she sees as her sister’s distraction, but Jesus seems to go deeper here. He says that Martha worries about many things. The scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what Martha was worried about, but you get the sense that she worried a lot and not always about the things that mattered.

What gets you worried and upset? Very often we get worried, upset and distracted by the wrong things in this life. I love decorating for Christmas and seeing the tree all lit up. I love even more watching the children’s face light up when they see the decorations all in place. But it is possible to take it too far. I’m not talking about putting up so many lights that Watts Bar has to start up another nuclear reactor! I’m talking about when decorating becomes a competition, either with your neighbors or against an unreachable standard you see on Instagram. Very often people mistake photo-shopped pictures of perfect decorations, meals or outfits as reality and then stress when they look in the mirror and don't see the same thing or they look around their house and see a tree with moldy handmade Christmas ornaments from their kid's kindergarten instead of a professionally dressed tree.

Wrong distractions take our eyes off of Jesus and onto things that are either sins, problems, or simply worthless. When you get distracted by these things you are elevating them in your life and giving them a place of honor. You are saying they are more important to you than God.

It easy to get distracted and stressed during the silly season. Sometimes it is worry over problems - many of which you won’t even remember having next year, a few of which are serious but none are bigger or more important than God. Even worse is when you look at your problems and say, God, I can’t worship you now, I have too many problems. That’s like saying you can’t go to the doctor because you are sick or you can’t go to the dentist because you have a toothache! You are denying yourself the cure and the relief when you focus on the problem more than on God!

Jesus gives us the answer in verse 42 when He says Mary has made the right choice. What was her choice? Sitting at the feet of Jesus and focusing on Him.

Let me ask you; do you want to stand before God one day and say decorations are more important than you? Do you want to stand before your creator and say my image is more important than you? Do you want to stand before your Savior and see those nail-scarred hands and say my sin was more important than you? When you let these things distract you from God then that is what you are doing. What have you given a place of honor in your life that is distracting you from God?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Monday, November 19, 2018

More To Thanksgiving Than Food

John 6:24-26  24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “ Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “ I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

This incident takes place right after Jesus had fed the 5,000. Afterward, Jesus sneaks away from the crowd and crosses the Sea of Galilee, on foot by the way, but the people find Him and follow Him across the water by boat the next day. The crowd is all like Teacher we’re so glad we found you! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! And Jesus, who knows their hearts and our hearts perfectly, stops them cold and tells them; You didn’t come here for the teaching. You didn’t come here for Me. The only reason you sought me out was to get some more of the free food!

The people that followed Jesus across the lake weren't really looking for what He was teaching – they were there for the food! Imagine having the opportunity to sit at the foot of Christ and hear the secrets of eternal life being spoken by the Word Himself and instead just asking for a meal! They took a blessed opportunity and made it all about food!

Happy Thanksgiving. Folks! I can imagine what y’all are thinking. Oh, no this isn't what I wanted to
read on Thanksgiving! You’ve moved beyond stepping on my toes, now you’re stepping on my full belly!  Years ago worked for LifeWay Christian Resources I came in for my first day of training and was greeted with a delicious barbecue dinner and a time of fellowship with my new coworkers. Before we even began working we had food - I knew I was working for a Baptist organization!

We Baptist's do love to eat. Now do not get me wrong. I love food, food is important, we need it to live and I always look especially forward to the delicious meals on Thanksgiving day, but there is more to Thanksgiving than food, football, and parades. We should give thanks for everything we are blessed with but there must be a priority to our thanksgiving.

We should be more thankful for the people gathered around our table than the food sitting on our table.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask that God will Give us this day our daily bread. He is talking about our daily needs, those things we need to make it through the day. Those things we too often take for granted. When it is there we never think of it. When it is gone we worry about it without end. Why are we more thankful for it when it is returned than before it is lost in the first place?

Have you noticed that here in John six after the crowd is miraculously fed, there is no mention of a thank you? Jesus gives thanks to the Father, of course, but does the crowd thank Jesus after the meal? If they did it was not recorded and so we have this image of the crowd eating their full and waking up the next morning looking for their free breakfast and only realize they need to seek out Jesus when their stomachs are hungry.

What can you learn from this crowd? Here are two lessons I see for us:

1. Don’t wait for something to be lost before you are thankful for it. One of the fastest ways to lose God’s providence in our life is to treat it as something we deserve rather than as a gracious gift.

2. Seek out God for God. The blessings are not the reason we seek out a relationship with God. It is not let’s get the blessings of heaven and oh yeah God is thrown in as a bonus. Love the giver of gifts more than the gifts themselves. That will help you to see that Thanksgiving is more than food.

Enjoy this day with your family, eat a lot, watch the parades and the games, have some fun!  Just make sure you also take some time to reflect and be truly thankful to God for that which can not be measured and doesn't have a price tag.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Be Generous With Your Prayers

Ephesians 6:18 Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

Hopefully, if you’ve been reading these devotions, you are becoming aware of the necessity and power of prayer in our lives and how that power is not limited to only those who are close to us. We pray to an infinite God with an infinite reach and when we join our prayers with those of Christians around the world God answers in places and within people we will not see or know until we are home in heaven. We know and are thankful that the effectiveness of our prayers do not lie in our ability to pray but in the power of the One we pray too, but we must be willing to offer up those prayers.

In Ephesians, chapter six, Paul tells us to put on the armor of God so we can be ready for the spiritual battle we all face in a world full of hate, temptation and brokenness. He closes this passage with a plea for us to pray at all times for all the saints (believers in Christ). Paul understood full well that none of us can make it through this world without prayer and that the most helpful attitude we can have is to be generous with our prayers.

My five year old daughter Katie went through a time where she wanted to give away everything, all of her toys and clothes. At first, I was happy to see such a generous spirit but when I asked her why she was doing it she said: “I know if I give away what I have you will buy me something new!” I had to explain to her the limits of her father’s wallet! However, for our Father in Heaven, this is exactly true. He blesses us with great things so we can use them wisely to help others. If we are good stewards and give according to His will then He will ensure our needs are met.

That is why it strikes me as odd that the one blessed gift we never have to worry about running out of
is the one we sometimes are so stingy with - Prayer. We often treat prayer as if it is something that is limited, something we have to save for. “I’d pray for this small need but what if I have a bigger need later on?”

What is worse is when we treat our prayer for others the same way. I once had a man tell me that his neighbor had asked him to pray for his children who were not living in God’s will. The man refused, saying he would not pray for them until they were living in God's will. I asked him, how could they live in God’s will without someone praying for them? The truth is we all need prayer, that is why Paul encourages us here to be generous in our prayers for others. Not just for him, but for all the saints.

Maybe you have a list of people you pray for regularly. It might have people from you church, your children, maybe your neighbors - depending on how well you know them and, let’s be honest, whether or not you like them. It is wonderful to have a list to remind you of those you know are in need of prayer, but don’t be afraid to go beyond your list. Pray for our leaders, whether you voted for them or not, pray for those who annoy you, pray for the girl who handed you lunch out the drive-thru window, the guy who took your favorite parking spot. When you are trying to figure out who needs prayer, it may be better to ask who doesn’t need prayer!

This week, try to think beyond your prayer list. Who are the people you encounter in your life that you can take a moment to pray for? Who are the “forgotten saints” in your life that you can spend more time praying for? This week, be generous in your prayers.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

Luke 18:1-8
1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged: 2 “There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect man. 3 And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’4 “For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’”6 Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night?Will He delay to help them? 8 I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”

Prayer is a blessed gift, it is the way we make it through the good times and the bad times in our life. As we’ve talked about before, prayer is more than a wish list. It is not the same as your shopping cart on Amazon, it is a conversation with the all mighty, sovereign, God of the universe. It is a time where we get to know Him better and where He helps us to grow to be more like His Son.

Here, Jesus is telling a parable, or using a story to illustrate a deeper truth. In this parable we have two characters; a judge and a widow. Normally you would expect the judge to represent God in this story since that was literally the job description given for a judge in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, however this was not a good judge. He did not respect man or God. Instead he serves as a contrast to God, a reminder of how good our God is, and how He hears our petitions.

The main point here is not the character of the uncaring judge it is the character of the widow, it is her persistence. In this story she had nowhere else to turn, no other resort, her only choice was to cry out to this uncaring judge. She knew he would not respond quickly, she knew she had no guarantee of being heard, and yet she did not give up, she did not lose hope. She continued to cry out believing her persistence would be rewarded.

Thankfully our hope does not rest in an uncaring judge but in our loving God.  Still, we must be persistent in our prayers. I was once asked by a lady if her constant prayers showed a lack of faith. She said “If I pray once and leave it then that shows I have a true faith but if I keep praying then it shows I don't trust God to answer my first prayer.” I led her to this parable and explained to her that it is by asking repeatedly and hopefully that we show we have true faith. That we are willing to not give up on a need.  Of course her response was “Why? Why must I pray persistently, why won't God just give me what I want now?”

Maybe He wants us to think through what we are asking first, maybe we are asking for something that He knows will not be good for us or will be better for us at a later time. Maybe He knows that we need to be prepared for whatever we are asking by spending more time with Him first.

You see even though God does want us to come to Him with our needs, and yes He is gracious and generous to supply them, our needs are not the mot important part of prayer. Prayer is first and foremost about God changing us rather than getting God to change His mind. Prayer is where we learn who God truly is and how He created us to be.  It is the time spent with Him that we truly need.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I Surrender All

Luke 22:39-42 39 He went out and made His way as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. 40 When He reached the place, He told them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, 42 “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me —nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”

A few weeks back we looked at a verse in 1st John. 1st John 5:14 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  I wrote about how amazing it is that the wonderful, all powerful God of the universe hears us when we pray and how we can approach Him with confidence. However, there is a caveat John includes here: “Whenever we ask anything according to His will.
“Prayer presents us with a conundrum. I come to God with what I want, but at the same time, I must submit my will to what God wants. What if my desires and God’s plans don’t fit with each other? ~ Chris Talton
How do I respond when my desires are not met by my Heavenly Father?  Do I grumble, complain, become disobedient?  My five year old knows it is better for her to eat her veggies before she can have dessert but that doesn't mean she is very willing when I tell her that!  Her response to not having her desire met reflects her lack of maturity.  Does my response to My Heavenly Father show the same? 

Here in Luke 22, we find Jesus on the night He was arrested before the crucifixion.  He is in the Garden of Gethsemane and He knows full well what is coming.  He loves humanity He wants humanity to be saved but the fully man part of the Man God knows what that will take, and He understandably desires to not go through it. So He expresses His desire.  God the Son asks God the Father if there is any way He doesn't have to go through this.  Still He prays ... nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”  It is a striking prayer of submission that serves as a model for our walk with God. How can I develop the discipline to truly surrender my desires, my all, to God's will. 

Notice what it says before this in verse 39, He went out and made His way as usual ... This time of prayer is not described as something unusual for Jesus, yes the content is unique to this situation, but the fact that He regularly prayed is not.  The Gospels often tell us time and time again that Jesus spent time alone praying. He submitted to God the Father daily in the small things which equipped Him to surrender in the big things. 

Too often we are like Peter and say, don’t worry Lord, when the chips are down you can count on me. I will do exactly what you say when it counts. Then when we face the big decision to follow or not, we fail. When we face big temptation, we crumble. We do not realize that it is every second and every decision that counts. It is easier to submit to God on the big decisions in life when you have already built up the practice of submitting to Him on the small choices we make every day.

When I was looking up definitions of surrender I came across two interesting ones: Surrender: (1) Having no resistance, and (2) accepting reality. Think about that for a moment, when we surrender our desires to God we are not only saying I will stop resisting your Holy Spirit in my life but we are also admitting that what God desires is far better than what we desire. That is the reality of all creation.

Have you ever seen the Christian flag? Many churches have them in their sanctuary or flying outside the building. This is a non-political flag that is intended to represent all Christians around the world, regardless of denomination. It is a cross on a white flag of surrender. Are you surrendering to the cross today, more importantly, are you surrendering to the Man who hung on the cross today?

Jesus was always in full submission and surrender to the Father, we, on the other hand, are sinful people. We sing the great old hymn "I Surrender All" when we mean I surrender some. We hold onto our selfish desires, pray for those desires to be met, and then complain to God when He in His wisdom says He’s not giving us that.

When you bring your desires to God or come to a crossroads of decision, are you honestly praying “Father, Your will be done.”

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church